For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
-Titus 3:3-7 (NRSV)
That’s the gospel. And I want us to stop being so nervous to share it.
One of my clearest memories from high school is from tenth grade, my first period class. I was talking with a friend I had met that year. The topic circled around to religion and I admitted that I was a Christian. That was how it felt–like it was a crime that I was admitting or confessing to, like it was about to ruin everything. I remember the incredulous look on my friend’s face as she exclaimed, “You’re a Christian?” As ashamed as I am to admit it now, I was relieved to hear those words. In my mind, her reaction meant I’d managed to shed my outward “pure church girl” image. I was normal. I wasn’t weird. In a way, I was proud of the fact that I’d managed to keep my religion a secret from the outside world.
Needless to say, high school me didn’t quite understand the gospel. I knew it (I think), but the thought of having to tell it to someone else was enough to give me a heart attack. I think that’s because I didn’t fully believe it.
The Jesus I grew up knowing about was this older fellow who was kind of a hippie, and he never really said anything relevant or interesting but I had to hear about him all the time anyway. Along with him came this really elaborate set of rules and ideas (many of which aren’t actually in the Bible, they’re just expected of you if you go to church), and I agreed that most of them were good and followed some.
I went to church (mainly for the sake of avoiding arguments with my parents and getting to see people I liked) and had my (very boring and often rushed) quiet times because they made me feel better for a little while afterward. Religion was something of a burden for me, and to tell you the truth, it still is.
It’s a good thing Jesus isn’t about religion.
I finally encountered Jesus right before freshman year of college, and He was nothing like I expected. When I met Him, He fit perfectly into the holes in my heart. Suddenly I could hear the words and breath of the God who created the universe; my spirit had a purpose, and that purpose was relating to its Lover. Spending time with Him was like seeing your best friend again after a year apart. My life, the world, and my relationships had meaning for once and for the first time I understood beauty.
I wish I had known in high school that Jesus was like that, because those four years would have been radically different. But I know now that He is like that, and the reason for that is because He stretched out His hand beyond all that was rational to save me. His death outside of the gates of Jerusalem is my favorite illustration.
Hebrews 13:11-16 (NRSV)
11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Outside the Camp
In ancient times, inside the camp was where you wanted to be. Inside the camp, you could be safe and clean. Outside was another story.
Outside the camp were the unclean people–the ones with leprosy and other incurable diseases. It was where waste was buried, where sacrificial animals were burned, and where enemies made their hideouts.
As Jerusalem grew, “outside the camp” eventually became “outside the gates.”
Jesus went outside the gates to Golgotha to be crucified.
“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him…” -John 19:17-18a
I was that unclean person outside the camp, but Jesus came and got me. His physical death outside the city gates is symbolic of the fact that He met me where I was: unclean, broken, a hindrance. And then He rose again and I rose with Him.
If we say we are willing to be crucified with Christ, we need to be willing to go with Him outside the camp. So where is that, exactly?
If I know one thing, it’s that “outside the camp” is definitely outside the Christian bubble. It’s outside the lifestyle we consider to be safe. Sometimes it’s (gasp) outside religion.
Jesus spent His earthly ministry with people who were outside the camp. They were lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, prostitutes, dead people (I’m looking at you, Lazarus), beggars…the list goes on. He did not spend His time assimilating into the religion of the elite.
If we would claim to be His followers, let’s do the same. Let’s spend our time with the least of these. Let’s share our hope with people who are “outside the camp.” Let’s ask God who those people are in our own lives. Let’s stop being so busy that the only Christianity we have time for is the secure kind.
Let’s look like Jesus.
1. Pray. Ask God who and where He is calling you to. Don’t give up until you have an answer.
2. Wherever He leads you, go.
This really isn’t complicated stuff.